4 BITS: gymnastics, tennis, Lochte, Muschamp

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics advanced to the NCAA Super Six for the seventh time in the last eight seasons on Friday by winning its session with a score of 197.775, which also wound up being the top overall mark during the two-session semifinals of the 2013 NCAA Championship. Additionally, Bridget Sloan became the second Florida freshman to win the NCAA’s all-around individual national title in as many years after she posted a combined 39.600 on Friday with a 9.925 in the uneven bars, 9.900s in the floor exercise and balance beam, and a 9.875 in the vault. The Gators have never won an NCAA team title but came excruciatingly close one season ago, falling by 0.075 points in the Super Six. Alabama, which won the 2012 championship, returns to this season’s Super Six field along with Florida, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma and UCLA. The Crimson Tide, Bulldogs and Bruins are three of just four teams in the history of the sport that have won NCAA gymnastics titles (Utah); the Gators are hoping to become the fifth on Saturday in Los Angeles, CA in a meet that begins at 7 p.m.

2 » (3) Florida women’s tennis and (3) Gators men’s tennis each won their 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinal matches on Friday. Each had byes in the first two rounds of the tournament. The women took down the (6) Vanderbilt Commodores 4-1, and the men swept the (6) South Carolina Gamecocks 4-0 as both teams advanced to the semifinals of their respective tournaments. Florida’s women’s team will go head-to-head with (2) Texas A&M on Saturday at approximately 3 p.m. The Gators men’s program will square off with (2) Tennessee at 11 a.m. The women’s team is hoping to win its fourth-straight SEC Tournament title, while the men are trying to capture their first since 2011.

3 » Former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte, in an effort to promote his new reality program “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” (which premiers on Sunday at 10 p.m. on E!), appeared on FOX 29 in Philadelphia, PA for an interview on Friday and made, well, made the female host cry. Rather than shedding tears after Lochte told a touching story or because she was so overwhelmed by what some women perceive to be his attractiveness, Sheinelle Jones broke into tears from laughing at, well, Lochte’s stupidity. Check out the video below to see for yourself.

Lochte’s athletic accomplishments have instilled a sense of pride in Gators fans – especially during the 2012 London Olympics – but his interviews and upcoming reality show may bring forth a different emotion: embarrassment.

4 » A feature story by Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com takes a look at Florida head coach Will Muschamp and how he has changed from a personality standpoint now that he is entering the third year at the helm of the Gators. “Something two years ago would have happened, [and] I would have probably blown my head off thinking about it,” he conceded. “Now I roll with the punches a little better than maybe I did before.” Interestingly enough, his parents disagreed on how Muschamp’s demeanor may appear in his third year with the team. His mother, Sally, thinks he may be calming down a bit – “I think he’s enjoying everything more now.” – while his father, Larry, doubts that will be the case – “I don’t think he’ll be settling down a whole lot.”

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Florida baseball sweeps No. 8 South Carolina; Gators above .500 for first time since Feb. 20

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

It has been a season of ups and downs for Florida Gators baseball (19-18, 8-7 SEC), but the home team was able to end the week on a major high note by completing a three-game sweep of the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks (27-10, 8-7 SEC) on Saturday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

The series sweep was Florida’s first of the season. Saturday’s victory pushed the Gators above .500 for the first time since Feb. 20 while simultaneously extending their winning streak to five games including four-in-a-row over top-10 ranked opponents.

Following a big come-from-behind 4-3 victory over No. 7 Florida State on Tuesday in Tallahassee, FL, Florida started its series against South Carolina on Thursday with its ace – junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford – on the mound.

Crawford (2-5) carried his team with a solid 6.2-inning outing in which he allowed only two runs to help UF pick up the 3-2 victory.

It was Crawford’s second longest outing of the season and an indication that he may finally be ready to return to his role as staff ace. Crawford was bumped from the No. 1 spot in the rotation after he struggled in non-conference play, but he has won his last two home SEC starts and looks to be the Gators’ top starter going forward.

Continue Reading » Florida baseball sweeps No. 8 South Carolina; Gators above .500 for first time since Feb. 20

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Gators dominating one play, one game at a time

What No. 4 Florida Gators basketball has accomplished through seven games of Southeastern Conference play is unprecedented within the league.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Florida is just the third team in the last 25 years to win its first seven conference games by more than 15 points, joining 2010-11 Belmont (eight) and 1990-91 UNLV (12).

The Gators picked up their third-largest margin of victory in SEC play on Wednesday, defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks by 39 points. Florida defeated Ole Miss by 47 in 1993 and Mississippi State by 44 in 1987.

UF (17-2, 7-0 SEC) also extended its winning streak to nine games – the most it has strung together since winning 10 games in a row in the middle of the 2008-09 – and went undefeated in the month of January for the first time since 2007 (8-0).

For head coach Billy Donovan, the Gators winning by an average of 28.3 points in league play is notable but nothing for the team to hang its collective hat on.

“The more you win like this, the more you show what you’re capable of – I believe as a coach – the more responsibility you have because you’re playing at a certain level and you’ve shown a certain level. What you want to try to do as a basketball team is not go backwards a step but continue to grow and get better and improve and understand that’s the number one priority – getting better,” he said after Wednesday’s game.

“The minute you start to cut corners or you start to think you’ve got things figured out or you think you don’t need to do those things anymore, that’s where the slippage starts.”

Florida performed like Donovan dictated in the second half of the contest. If one of the Gators’ teams of the last few seasons led 33-10 at the half like they did on Wednesday, Florida might have taken its foot off the gas, relaxed on defense and cruised to a victory.

Not this squad. These Gators still outscored the Gamecocks 42-26 in the second half, posting more points in the latter 20 minutes than the visitors did in the entire game.

Continue Reading » Gators dominating one play, one game at a time

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No. 4 Florida annihilates South Carolina 75-36

No. 4 Florida Gators basketball (17-2, 7-0 SEC) continued its nine-game winning streak while remaining undefeated in league play with a 75-36 obliteration of the South Carolina Gamecocks (12-8, 2-5 SEC) on Wednesday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

Florida’s 39-point win over South Carolina was the largest margin of victory in the all-time series between to the two programs, while the Gamecocks’ total of 36 points was the fewest it has ever scored as a member of the Southeastern Conference.

The Gators also registered their most dominant SEC victory since Feb. 17, 1993 when they defeated Ole Miss by 47 points in the O’Dome. It was the third-largest SEC win in school history (44 vs. Mississippi State on Jan. 7, 1987).

UF’s winning streak is its longest since the middle of the 2008-09 season when the the team won 10 games in a row. The Gators have also gone undefeated in the month of January (8-0) for the first time since 2007.

Though both teams were slow out of the gate, Florida exploded in the early going and locked down South Carolina defensively. The Gators forced 10 turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game and jumped ahead 21-4 after redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario scored 10-straight points.

USC wound up netting just three field goals in the first half as UF kept the pressure on and increased its lead to 23 points by the time the halftime buzzer sounded.

Florida began the second half by outscoring South Carolina 22-5 and stretching its impressive lead to 55-15. Senior G Kenny Boynton hit a pair of three-pointers during that stretch that pushed him past Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins and into sixth on the Southeastern Conference’s all-time list (307).

The Gators substituted in their bench players after the lead ballooned past 40 points and held on for the big home victory.

Boynton and Rosario each scored a game-high 15 points in Wednesday’s contest with the former adding a game-high seven assists to his stat line. Junior center Patric Young registered a team-high eight rebounds to go along with eight points.

Freshman G Michael Frazier and junior F Will Yeguete each grabbed seven boards, but Frazier was also dominant on the offensive end with 12 points on efficient 4-of-6 shooting from downtown.

Florida outshot South Carolina from the field (.528-.311) and from downtown (.571-.143) while outrebounding (38-24) the visitors. The Gators dished 18 assists on 28 made baskets, forced 17 turnovers and outscored the Gamecocks off turnovers (22-2) in the paint (28-18), off the bench (21-8) and on second chances (7-6).

UF will remain home for its second-straight contest as it hosts No. 16 Ole Miss on Saturday. The game will air live at 8 p.m. on ESPNU.

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

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Prather returns as Florida takes on South Carolina

No. 4/4 FLORIDA GATORS SO. CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Frank Martin
Record: 16-2 (6-0 SEC) Record: 12-7 (2-4 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 8:00 p.m. EST

TV: SEC Network (Dave Neal, Barry Booker) [Affiliates]
SiriusXM: 92/199 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: ESPN3.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter and SportsYapper app

Odds: Florida -23.5 | O/U (OFF)

BACK AT FULL STRENGTH

Florida announced just over an hour before tip-off that junior forward Casey Prather, who has missed the last four games after suffering a high-ankle sprain on Jan. 12, has been cleared by team trainers and will return to the court on Wednesday.

As OGGOA previously reported on Jan. 21, Prather was expected to return to game action at some point this week.

He travelled with the team and participated in shoot around before the Gators’ last game at Mississippi State but did not play.

Head coach Billy Donovan said Monday that Prather had begun participating in non-contact work in practice. He later noted that he would not play Wednesday and was questionable to return on Saturday.

One of Florida’s three primary reserves, Prather is an important member of the Gators’ in-game rotation. It will be just the ninth time this season that Florida has had all eight players healthy and active for a game.

MOVING ON UP

Senior guard Kenny Boynton continues to shoot up the school’s charts. On Wednesday, he will have the opportunity to surpass Eugene McDowell (4,100) for second-most minutes played in school history as he enters the game with 4,071. Boynton will be starting his 124th game, tying him with Andrew Moten for third all-time with the Gators. With two three-pointers in the game, he will tie Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins (306) at sixth on the SEC’s all-time list.

More on Boynton’s school and conference rankings in OGGOA‘s extensive Florida-Ole Miss gameday preview on Saturday.

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Reports: Brad Lawing hired as Gators assistant

UPDATE: Florida announces hiring of Brad Lawing to two positions

South Carolina Gamecocks defensive line coach Brad Lawing will be hired to a similar position with the Florida Gators, according to multiple reports on Saturday originating with one from FootballScoop.com.

As of Monday morning, neither school has confirmed the move, though it was reported over the weekend that Lawing was finalizing his agreement with the Gators.

A long-time Gamecocks assistant, Lawing had spent 17 years at the school divided over two separate stints. He first worked at South Carolina from 1989-98 as a defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator.

Lawing departed USC and spent four seasons at Michigan State (1999-2002) and three more at North Carolina (2003-05) with the same job description. Upon returning to Columbia, SC, he continued his high level of coaching and led a Gamecocks defensive front that has been one of the best in the Southeastern Conference recently.

A spot on Florida’s staff opened up last week when defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was hired away by the Seattle Seahawks and linebackers coach and special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin was named as a replacement.

Durkin will continue coaching linebackers, which left open coaching positions for defensive ends and special teams.

Lawing will likely coach the entire defenisive line with a focus on the ends, leaving the defensive tackles for current assistant defensive line coach Bryant Young.

Head coach Will Muschamp noted Friday during a press conference that he had “a lot of different avenues to travel down” as it pertained to making his next hire.

“I’ve been in situations where you have a special teams coordinator that coaches everything like D.J. did. I’ve been a part of staffs where we’ve been very successful in special teams where each coach had a part [of the special teams unit to coach]. I’ve been down a lot of those roads. The bottom line is we’re going to find the best fit for the University of Florida, and we’re going to make it work,” he said.

If Lawing’s hiring becomes official, it would appear as if the Gators have decided to coach special teams by committee, a stark departure and certainly a risk for a unit that has been arguably the best in the nation over the last few years.

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FOUR BITS: volleyball title, Needles, soccer, cheer

1 » A young Florida Gators volleyball team struggled early this season in non-conference competition but has been on a roll since, winning 17-of-18 Southeastern Conference games and clinching the 2012 SEC Championship on Sunday. Florida (23-4, 17-1 SEC) defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks (17-14, 5-14 SEC) in a 3-0 sweep (25-19, 25-14, 25-19) to pick up the team’s 31th SEC title, its first since 2010. The Gators have now won 20 of the 22 SEC regular season titles awarded since 1991; UF also captured 11 SEC Tournament titles in that same time frame, though the event was discontinued following the 2005 season. All 31 league championships have comes under the stewardship of head coach Mary Wise, who took over the program in 1991 and will certainly be up for more Coach of the Year awards.

2 » Florida women’s basketball (3-1) dominated the North Florida Ospreys (0-4) to the tune of a 30-point win (74-44) on Monday, but the story of the game was the performance of redshirt freshman guard Carlie Needles, who set a program record with nine three-pointers in a single game. Needles scored a career-high 27 points in the contest while going 9-of-17 from beyond the arc. She did not take a single two-pointer or foul shot in her 31 minutes of court time. Her nine treys also tied the mark for second in SEC history for threes made by a women’s basketball player in a single game. She is just the fifth player in league history to make nine or more triples in a game. The old UF record (eight) was held by Bridget Pettis and set just over 20 years ago (Jan. 20, 1983).

3 » Coming off of winning two SEC titles – the regular season and tournament crowns – Gators soccer (19-5-1) put together an impressive run in the 2012 NCAA Tournament before falling to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-5-2) in the Sweet 16 on Sunday. Florida took down Florida Gulf Coast 2-0 in opening round action last week and defeated UCF on Friday before falling 2-0 to Notre Dame on Sunday. The Fighting Irish got on the board at 20’ and again at 71’; each team had four shots on goal. The match was the last in the careers of five seniors that have made a major impact on the program. Redshirt forward/midfielder McKenzie Barney, MF Jo Dragotta, MF Holly King, MF/F Erika Tymrak and redshirt defender Kathryn Williamson were all able to say goodbye to fans at home as the first three tournament games were played at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

4 » Learning last Friday that the team would no longer be allowed to perform tumbling or stunts at games, events or practices, members of Florida cheerleading were up in arms and expressed their frustration via social media. Supporters of the squad have now created SaveFloridaCheerleading.com in an effort to explain their position and give the administration reason to reverse their decision.

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Gators soccer captures first SEC title since 2010

No. 11 Florida Gators soccer (14-4-1, 11-2 SEC) has captured the Southeastern Conference Championship for the first time since 2010, defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks (6-9-4, 3-7 SEC) at Eugene E. Stone III Stadium in Columbia, SC

Florida triumphed 3-0 on Thursday, getting on the board thrice in the second half.

Junior transfer forward Adriana Leon scored what would eventually become the championship-winning goal at 64’ after taking a pass from senior forward Erika Tymrak, driving inside the box and delivering a great strike.

Sophomore midfielder Annie Speese added an insurance goal for the Gators just minutes later at 73’ when she booted a rebound off of a cross into the back of the net. Speese then registered another at 87, deflecting in a perfect pass from sophomore defender Tessa Andujar while standing in the middle of the box

The SEC regular season title is the 12th in the program’s 18-year existence but the first for Florida since the team won five-straight from 2006-10.

The Gators badly needed Thursday night’s victory after unexpectedly falling to Alabama 1-0 last weekend and breaking a 19-match winning streak against the SEC West program. Instead of having the conference championship secured heading into the season finale, Florida’s title hopes came down to the wire.

UF will now look to secure its first postseason title since 2010 as the No. 1 seed in the 2012 SEC Tournament, which is set to begin on Oct. 31 and last through Nov. 4.

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